Matchup, p.53
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       MatchUp, p.53
 

           Lee Child

  The words were barely out of her mouth when her phone rang again. “It’s Sister Anselm again.”

  She answered and switched the phone to speaker.

  “I just spoke to him,” Sister Anselm said. “He was able to tell me his name. When I asked if he knew Bravo, he nodded and said something about a boulder. I couldn’t make out any more than that, but I suspect it has something to do with the location of the veil.”

  “But no indication of the location of said boulder?”

  “None.”

  “Keep us posted.”

  The call ended.

  Ali turned back to him. “At the time Martin was delivered to the hospital, no one knew who he was. How did you know he was there?”

  “All Gnostic Observatines are outfitted with medical alert chips that can be scanned if one of us is hospitalized. It gives hospital personnel access to our medical records, but it also notifies us so we can come in and do damage control.”

  “So you can make sure your so-called war casualties don’t end up in any official police or hospital records?”

  He smiled and nodded. “Exactly. But it would seem I wasn’t the only one who had that information. I’m not sure about his sources, but Sister Anselm’s friend, Bishop Gillespie, must have known something about it as well. Is he trustworthy enough?”

  “He always has been, as far as I can tell.”

  “But what about those above him, the people he answers to?” he said. “Can you vouch for all of them?”

  She sat forward. “You think some of the people inside the church might be members of the Knights?”

  “It’s entirely possible. That’s why the possibility that the veil might be found here in Arizona has been handled with such strict secrecy.”

  Just then her cell dinged and she looked at the incoming text message. “We now have the last coordinates of Martin’s cell phone before the battery died. They’re being sent to us along with both topo maps and satellite imagery of the area.

  He was impressed. “That was fast.”

  Ali smiled. “You’d be surprised how fast Stu can do things when he isn’t hampered by having to wait around for properly drawn warrants.”

  They were seated side by side at a dining room table peering at the two sets of images Stu had sent along, both of them with a pin indicating the location of Martin’s missing phone.

  “Wait a minute,” Ali said, after studying the expanded images for some time. “I remember this place.”

  “You’ve been there?” he asked.

  “A long time ago when I was a kid. My dad was into prospecting back then. We went up and explored some old glory holes, looking for gold and silver.”

  “What’s a glory hole?”

  “Test holes dug, mostly by hand, by early explorers looking to strike it big. Some of them date from the time your Fra Ignacio was wandering in these parts. But what really impressed me about that trip was the cavern. Complete with stalagmites and stalactites. I’d never seen one like that. It seemed to go on forever.”

  “Can you take me there?” he asked.

  “Now?”

  “Please. Because that’s what the fragment we found in the Vatican said. That the veil was hidden in a cavern. We’ll need backup, though. I’ll call and see if my people are on the ground in Flagstaff.”

  She glanced out the window where fat snowflakes were already starting to fall. “That cavern is a lot higher than we are here in Sedona. By the time your people get here from Flagstaff, if they’re even in Flagstaff, the road into the mountains may be impassable. Besides, you’ll have backup. You’ll have me and Mr. Leland Brooks.”

  “The old guy who was here a little while ago?” he asked with no attempt to conceal his disbelief. “The one who brought our coffee?”

  She nodded.

  “Please, Ms. Reynolds. This might be terribly dangerous for everyone concerned, and the idea of involving a frail old man is out of the question. Tell me how to get there and I’ll do it alone.”

  “I saw your rental. A front-wheel-drive sedan. Where we’re going, that will never do. As for Mr. Brooks? You’d be surprised. He came of age as a Royal Marine, and you know what they say, ‘Once a marine, always a marine.’ ”

  The butler appeared at the French doors.

  “You called, madame?”

  “I did,” Ali said. “Stuart Ramey has located the spot where one of Mr. Shaw’s associates, Martin Price, was viciously attacked. He and I are about to set off on a mission to retrieve an item of Mr. Price’s property. Would you care to join us?”

  “What kind of mission?”

  “Most likely a dangerous and snowy one.”

  “So winter gear then,” Leland said without so much as a pause. “What about weaponry?”

  “We’re hoping there won’t be any law enforcement involvement. But just to be on the safe side, nothing that can be traced back to you,” she noted.

  “So batons then, rather than handguns?”

  “Probably a good idea.” She turned to Bravo. “What kind of hiking gear do you have along?”

  “I came prepared. Everything I need is out in the car.”

  She nodded. “Leland can show you to the guest room so you can change, and I’ll go do the same. Wheels up in ten.”

  LEFT IN A GUEST ROOM to change out of business clothing and into something more suitable for wintertime hand-to-hand combat, Bravo did more stewing than changing. He wasn’t accustomed to working with people outside the order, and yet, in this case, shorthanded as he was, there didn’t seem to be a choice. If the veil really was within reach, he didn’t want to lose it to the Knights of Saint Clement.

  That meant speed was of the essence.

  Ali knew how to get to the location where they needed to be. He did not. In the meantime, the weather outside the guest room window was deteriorating by the minute. He supposed, if nothing else, the old man could serve as a lookout while he and Ali searched for the veil. It was possible that Anson Stone was no longer anywhere nearby, but if things came down to taking out Anson Stone?

  He himself would handle that task.

  Once dressed, he called his sister back in New York. Emma was in charge of research for the inner circle of Gnostic Observatines.

  “How’s Martin?” she asked.

  “He’s out of surgery, but still iffy. It’s unknown if he’ll make it. I’m working with a woman named Ali Reynolds from a company called High Noon Enterprises. They located an image of the woman who bought the arrow used on Martin. Maria Elena Donahue.”

  “The Archer’s sidekick?”

  “None other,” he said. “Ali’s people have also locked in on the location where the veil is still hidden. We’re about to go there now.”

  “You and who else?”

  “The three of us. Ali, an elderly gentleman named Leland Brooks who’s supposedly a former Royal Marine, and yours truly.”

  “Three people, including a woman and an old man, up against Anson Stone? That’s nuts.”

  “If it goes bad, sis, I want you to know where we are and who’s involved. In the meantime, I want you to find everything there is to find on the Archer.”

  “Will do,” she said. “But I don’t like this. I don’t like any of it. Can’t you wait for reinforcements?”

  “The more we delay, the better the chance that we lose the veil.”

  “Be careful,” she said with a sigh. “Please be careful.”

  He left the guest room just as Ali was leaving a room at the end of the hall. She was dressed in a pair of sturdy hiking boots along with jeans topped by what looked like several layers of flannel shirts.

  “Ready?” she asked.

  He nodded.

  “In case this takes longer than just in and out, Leland is in the kitchen putting together a few supplies.”

  Minutes later, he found himself in the front passenger seat of a silver Porsche Cayenne. As far as he was concerned this was a life-and-death mission. He shook his head as Leland Broo
ks loaded a woven picnic hamper into the back of the SUV. Seeming to read Bravo’s disapproval, the old man winked.

  “Eat when you can,” he said with a grin as he closed the luggage gate, “but carry a big stick.” And Leland pulled what was clearly a weighted baton from the vest pocket of a down-filled jacket.

  Ali immediately connected her phone to the Cayenne’s Bluetooth. They had yet to reach the bottom of the driveway when the phone rang.

  “Push just came to shove,” Sister Anselm said over the car’s speaker system. “Stu and Cami spotted the woman from the hunting video and a man walking through the hospital parking lot. By the time they made it to the entrance, we had Father Price on the maternity ward.”

  Bravo was concerned.

  “It’s the only part of St. Jerome’s that can go on complete lockdown on a moment’s notice,” Ali explained. “It’s also the least likely place for a critically injured patient to be taken for treatment.” To Sister Anselm, Ali said, “What happened?”

  “They came inside and went up to the desk where they were told no one by the name of Martin Price was being treated in the hospital. They tried arguing with the desk clerk. She and a security guard ended up sending them packing. They left the hospital under protest, but Stu tells me that as they drove out of the lot, they were being followed by another vehicle. Facial rec of the driver of the car following matches one of the ones provided by Father Shaw earlier.”

  “That means they’re handled then,” he said quietly. “If Stone is on his own, that makes our odds a little better.”

  “I didn’t quite get that,” Sister Anselm said.

  “Doesn’t matter,” Ali said. “Are you and Martin staying on the maternity floor for now?”

  “They’ve lifted the lockdown, but since we’re already here, it can be reinstated at a moment’s notice.”

  “Has Martin said anything more?” Bravo asked, speaking loudly enough so Sister Anselm could hear.

  “Not so far. His doctors are keeping him heavily sedated for the time being.”

  “Keep us posted,” Ali said, ending the call. “What will happen to the man and the woman?”

  “An eye for an eye,” he responded quietly. “That’s the way it works in our world. May God have mercy on their souls. As for Anson Stone? My sister just sent me a file. The Archer is exceptionally dangerous on every level. He’s ex–Special Forces, and that was before he took to the bow and arrow.”

  “Can I read it?” Leland asked from the backseat. “It’s always a good idea to know thy enemy.”

  Bravo nodded and handed over his cell.

  Leland scanned the file, nodding to himself, then returned the phone to Bravo. “Invaluable. Thank you.”

  They drove in silence for more than an hour, through darkening clouds and thickening snow. Steering with confidence, Ali guided the nimble-footed vehicle up one trackless road after another, with each branch narrower than the one before. Even though they were under a thick canopy of pine, enough snow had filtered down that there was at least four inches on the ground when Ali finally stopped and cut the engine.

  “We’re here,” she said. “As close as we can get, anyway. The cavern is going to be another mile or so in that direction. From here on, we walk.” She pulled out a compass. “The snow canopy is playing havoc with the GPS. But I’ve been in snowstorms before.”

  They left the Cayenne and headed north, straight into the teeth of a rising wind that galloped over the mountains to the north and west. It bore down on them with a gathering ferocity, cutting visibility to nothing more than a few feet.

  Ali pressed forward with confidence.

  Bravo followed on her heels with Leland Brooks behind him. Despite the sharply steepening and narrowing path, he noted that the spry old man had no difficulty keeping up.

  “There were mines up here?” he asked, huffing with exertion at the unaccustomed elevation.

  “Not this far up,” she replied. “The really big strike was back down at Jerome. Even though people had known the ore was there for centuries, it couldn’t be profitably extracted until someone finally invented the narrow gauge railroad. Men, horses, mules all died attempting to bring the riches from up here down to market.”

  A rumble of thunder rolled around overhead, accompanied by a sudden flash of lightning. The flash illuminated their way in bizarre and lurid colors.

  “Lightning in a snowstorm,” she said. “Highly unusual, and bad luck for us. This one’s about to become a doozy.”

  The snow fell in diagonal sheets, driven so hard by the wind that it stung their faces, forcing them to continue half blinded. Their progress slowed. The snow piled up at an alarming rate. It was already above their ankles. Drifts had formed in some spots, driven against the rock face calf high.

  “Let’s keep going,” she advised. “We’ll be able to shelter inside the cavern and wait it out.”

  They reached a particularly hairy stretch where both Ali and Bravo slid back twice. Looking behind him, he noticed that Leland had fallen behind.

  “Are you all right?” he called.

  “You go on,” Leland yelled. “I’ll just rest here a minute and then catch up.”

  He and Ali plodded on.

  She stopped time and again to check the compass, and each time he was convinced they were hopelessly lost. He’d fallen behind by a few steps when she suddenly disappeared completely, melting into a gash in the cliff wall that had been entirely invisible in the swirling snow.

  He followed.

  Inside, he removed a Maglite from his pack and used it to examine the interior of the cave. Dark stains on the floor testified to what had happened here. It shook him beyond measure to know that this was where his people had made their last stand against the Knights. Here and there he caught sight of bloodied bits of cartilage that told him this had also been the scene of Martin’s appalling torture.

  He said nothing to Ali.

  “If the veil is here,” she said, “where do we start looking?”

  A sound broke the silence.

  The soft skitter of a pebble or boot heel against rock.

  SISTER ANLEM WATCHED AS MARTIN price, in his bed of drug-blunted pain, stirred briefly, opened his eyes, and stared upward into her face.

  “Welcome back,” she said, squeezing his hand. “My name is Sister Anselm. You’re in St. Jerome’s Hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona. You’ve been gravely injured, but an excellent surgeon has taken care of all that. Your job now is to rest and let your body heal.”

  Instead of calmness a look of urgent dread flashed across his face. “Bravo Shaw. I must speak with him at once.”

  His voice came out thin and reedy. Some words dropped to little more than whispers, others disappeared altogether, forcing her to piece them together like a patchwork quilt.

  “Not to worry,” she said. “Father Shaw has been here already. He’s discovered where you were when you sent that last text, and he’s probably there by now.”

  “In the cavern? Oh, no.”

  “Please be still,” she begged. “It’s okay.”

  “It’s not okay. You don’t understand. It’s a trap,” he whispered, and she bent closer to hear his words. “I hid the veil. I didn’t tell the Archer.”

  He stopped, panting.

  Monitors indicated that his pulse raced.

  “The Archer will be there waiting for him. You . . . must . . . warn him.”

  “I will,” she said. “You mentioned a boulder earlier. Something about a boulder.”

  “Inside the cavern,” he said. “On the floor . . . a boulder that moves.”

  His eyelids fluttered.

  His heart rate spiked and he slid back into unconsciousness.

 
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